Making wise life decisions often starts with a hearty dose of self-confidence — something that can be in short supply during the teenage years.
And for young women, who are bombarded with images of how they should look and what they should wear, it can be particularly challenging to maintain self-esteem.
From this thinking, three mentoring programs were born: Honey Shine, Women of Tomorrow and Pace Center for Girls.
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“It takes time to evolve your thinking that you have value within yourself. But hopefully these young women are getting there sooner than we did — that is how we can shift and change the world,” said Tracy Wilson Mourning, Honey Shine founder.
Mourning, the wife of former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning, launched her mentoring program in 2002. Honey Shine pairs professional women with young girls, whom they call “honey bugs,” in after-school programs and a summer camp. Honey Shine exposes girls and young women to people, resources and positive messages they might not have otherwise encountered.
It was Mourning’s own exposure to a college campus, the University of Cincinnati, when she was a young girl that sparked her pursuit of higher education. That opportunity to experience something positive and get out of your own neighborhood can’t be undervalued, she said.
Women of Tomorrow
When Women of Tomorrow founder Jennifer Valoppi studied psychology in college, mounting research about gender equality showed that the real problem wasn’t men finding the opposite sex inferior, but that women believed that about themselves. Valoppi wanted to change that.
“Women are very interested in doing things to help other women — they just didn’t have a vehicle [to accomplish this]. We provided the vehicle,” she said.
Valoppi, a former NBC 6 news anchor, founded Women of Tomorrow in 1997 with then NBC 6 President Don Browne. It began with 23 professional women who went into six public high schools to mentor at-risk girls. During that first year, the organization commissioned a psychologist to conduct self-esteem tests at the beginning and end of the program. Research found a sizable boost in how the mentored girls thought about themselves.
“Girls constantly come up to me and say it has saved their lives — not just changed their lives, saved their lives,” she said.
Since its founding in South Florida, Women of Tomorrow has expanded to greater Philadelphia and the metropolitan Detroit area. Valoppi said about 500 mentors work with 4,000 girls in more than 180 public schools. The schools select girls for participation based on risk factors, such as exposure to abuse, drugs, gangs, disability and a likelihood of dropping out of school.
In addition to professional women mentoring the girls, the organization offers career-focused field trips and college campus visits.
PACE Center for Girls
For girls who have suffered trauma, are failing in school or appear headed for the juvenile justice system, PACE Center for Girls is an alternative to public education.
Founded in Jacksonville in 1985, PACE opened its local doors in March 2014. PACE Miami Executive Director Sherry Thompson Giordano described the center as a prevention and intervention program that combines academic and social services while offering small classroom instruction, one-on-one counseling, health and wellness coaching and positive decision making.
“We try to create a nurturing and caring environment where girls can find their voice and understand their true value,” she said.
PACE girls can either graduate with their peers at the center (and receive a Miami-Dade County public schools degree) or transition back to their local schools. Giordano said their statistics show that 92 percent of students, a year after leaving PACE, have avoided the juvenile justice system, and 94 percent of them leave with a higher grade point average.
Insecurity and self-doubt are rampant among the girls when they begin the program, Giordano said. But as they discover their talents and begin to think it will be possible to launch careers, they find a strength that will help guide them through the rest of their lives, she added.